Riding the Yellowstone–Grand Teton Loop:

This is the third of a three-part installment about the motorcycling adventures of the all-female Motorcycle Media Group (MMG) exploring the Yellowstone-Grand Teton Loop. In Part Three, the MMG heads to Linn Canyon Ranch for fine dining and an eye-opening lesson in Geotourism. Written by guest blogger Michelle Baird.

The MMG had just left the decadent Teton Springs Lodge & Spa in Victor, Idaho, and, refreshed from several hours of relaxing at the spa after a full day of riding our Harley-Davidson motorcycles, we were headed to the Linn Canyon Ranch for dinner.We were on a five-day tour of the Yellowstone-Grand Teton Loop, thanks to the Idaho Department of Tourism–and, thanks to Harley-Davidson, we were riding brand-new 2011 Harley-Davidsons. We had already clicked off around 340 miles of the 400-mile trip, and this was our last dinner together as the MMG.

Some of us had gotten so caught up in the day’s exploration of the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and the Teton Scenic Byway that we had completely forgotten to eat our brown-bag lunches, so we were ecstatic to find a huge spread of appetizers set out on tables on the wraparound porch when we arrived at the Linn Canyon Ranch. We were welcomed by a cowboy singing softly on the Linn’s porch that overlooks an apple orchard and an aspen grove. The Linn Canyon Ranch is a blue-jeans-friendly place, but with a black-tie menu, and we were treated to elegantly arranged plates of food.

During our dinner, we had a VIP visit us: Reid Rogers, project manager of the Greater Yellowstone Geotourism Center. Rogers previously had held the position of president of the Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce, but he stepped down from this job in order to focus his energy on the Geotourism Center project that we were about to learn about. Most of our group had never even heard the term geotourism before: The National Geographic Society defines geotourism as: tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place–its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. Geotourism is best-practice tourism that sustains, or even enhances, the geographical character of a place, such as its culture, environment, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

The word is actually not new: It was coined by National Geographic senior editor Jonathan B. Tourtellot and his wife, Sally Bensusen, more than a decade ago. What is new is what Rogers and his supporters are doing. They are making an actual brick-and-mortar institution, and turning the theory of geotourism into something tangible. There are plans in motion to build a visitors’ center/interpretive facility in Driggs, Idaho, and it is believed it will be the very first of its kind.

Why Driggs, Idaho? Because the National Geographic identified the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem as one of the world’s important geographical areas at around the same time that the city of Driggs was planning to build a visitors’ center. Rogers went to National Geographic to gather information and discovered that there was no other facility in existence that took the concept of geotourism and turned it in a physical institution, so he decided to mesh the two projects. Driggs is located about six miles from the border of Wyoming, just a few hours south of the entrance to Yellowstone Park, and an about an hour’s drive west of the Grand Teton National Park, so the location makes it a hub to these popular tourist spots. Reid Rogers and the citizens of the area saw an opportunity to get linked up with the National Geographic’s geotourism projects.

Geotourism creates a circle of mutual benefit: in exchange for the tourism revenue, the residents and the businesses have an incentive to protect their historic structures, their culture and their land. It puts the area in a global conversation in the National Geographic’s network and provides method of measuring their progress against other geotourism destinations. And from the tourists’ part of the circle of benefits, it encourages and educates visitors to tread lightly, leaving the region intact and unmolested for future generations.

National Geographic had created an online interactive map (www.YellowstoneGeotourism.org) of the area, which encompasses 20 million acres of chunks of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The map is more than a road-and-lodging guide: It shows everything from where to swim in a geothermally warmed pool (Lava Hot Springs), to places to off-road ride on 400-foot dunes (St. Anthony Sand Dunes), to when to see a dog-sled race (American Dog Derby, coming up in February). National Geographic Society has crafted a “Geotourism Charter” that explains its 13 principles. The charter has phrases such as “Encourage businesses to sustain natural habitats, heritage sites, aesthetic appeal, and local culture,” and “Help businesses develop approaches to tourism that build on the area’s nature, history and culture, including food and drink, artisanry, performance arts, etc.” It is an exciting project that could change the future of tourism and allow present and future generations to see a piece of authentic America that is actively protected from the all too common commercialization, branding and homogenization of our important places in America.

Reid Rogers spoke to each of us about the project, and, by the end of the evening we were all infused with his passion for geotourism. We realized that we can preserve our lands, yet still enjoy them. We don’t have to stand behind the metaphorical rope to view our nation’s treasures in some unnatural freeze-framed vignette. With the idea of geotourism, it means that we can live and experience a place, its people, its history, and its culture, while being thoughtful and conscious about negatively impacting the destination. The geotourism concept allows evolution of the destination along the natural path it is already going down. It is also about healing the damage we have already done from past mistakes and nurturing what is intact.
The MMG had just 66 miles left on the ride; we were heading from Victor in the morning back to where we had first let out the clutches in Idaho Falls. After our meeting with Reid Rogers, the trip was now more than just a dozen women riding bikes in Americana; we were witnesses to the beginning of a mini-revolution of sorts of how we use our land and explore our country.

Riding the Yellowstone-Grand Teton Loop Part I

Riding the Yellowstone-Grand Teton Loop Part II

Riding the Yellowstone-Grand Teton Loop Part III